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What is Emotionally Based School Non-Attendance (EBSNA)?


EBSNA is a term used to describe a group of children and young people who have severe difficulty in attending school due to emotional factors, often resulting in prolonged absences.  

For some, an avoidant strategy might be used to miss particular lessons, whilst others might resist attending for longer stretches.  Where ‘fight or flight’ are the two most common basic responses for dealing with threat, this avoidant type of behaviour can be seen as ‘flight’: a way of getting away from the source of threat.

Emotionally Based School Non-Attendance (EBSNA), Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA) or Anxiety Based School Avoidance (ABSA) are three phrases commonly used to describe those students who are avoiding all or parts of school life, as a result of worry or anxiety.

What causes Emotionally Based School Non-Attendance in children?

There may be just one underlying cause, but of course there are more likely to be several, with EBSNA often resulting from a complex interplay between home, school and within child factors.

Some examples could be to do with: 

  • Social anxiety - fear of ridicule, isolation, social rejection, loneliness.

  • Anxiety around learning - fear of failure, ridicule, letting others down, a bleak future.

  • Health anxiety - fear of not being well, difficulty coping with physiological effects of being in school (e.g. sensory sensitivities), fear of loss or change. 

The symptoms that a child feels are very real for them, and are both emotional and physical, they can be extremely distressing. Avoidance is used to reduce the anxiety, it is a natural response to the discomfort, whereby, the brain attempts to move us to safety. However, when the child needs to return to school, the feelings of anxiety increase further and this creates a distressing cycle for the child which becomes difficult to manage.




















Suffolk Council have a huge amount of information on their website, including support documents for both parents and young people.  

Other useful websites:

West Sussex Council - EBSA Toolkit

Information booklets for parents, children and young people

Support Services for Education - Parents / Carers EBSA Guidance

This webpage is designed to help parents / carers to support children who have concerns about going to school

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